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March 22, 2010

Gluten-free trend hits home at Woodberry Kitchen

Amy GjerdeMany restaurants have gluten-free menu items these days, but Woodberry Kitchen has an exceptionally good reason for catering to the gluten-free crowd: the chef's wife has Celiac Disease.

Amy Gjerde, who co-owns Woodberry with husband Spike, had trained as a pastry chef and baked for his earlier restaurant ventures before the disease struck. The birth of the couple's second child, in 2002, apparently triggered it, she said.

"It was quite a shock," she said. "I had seizures and everything."

Her illness has influenced Woodberry's menu "hugely," she said. 

The menu highlights conventional items that are, by their nature, free of gluten. It also lists dishes that can be made gluten free with a few tweaks, such as substituting French fries or vegetables for a potato gratin side containing flour. The restaurant always has gluten-free bread on the premises. (It's not baked in house because it needs to be made in a flour-free environment, she said. It comes from Tenzo Artisan in Frederick.) 

"We really spend a lot of time training our staff and talking about the different allergies and not making someone feel like they're asking too much to ask the chef [a question] or change something around," she said. 

Before her illness, the gluten issue "just wasn't on our radar." 

Doctors initially told Amy she couldn't even be in the same room with flour. But once she eliminated gluten from her diet, and her body started healing, her sensitivity lessened. She has even started baking again for her family. She has tried some gluten-free baking, but so far, "it hasn't taken my interest yet as much as the traditional baking.

"I still enjoy using those ingredients and making the traditional recipes of my mother and grandmother," she said.

One of her specialties, the item she most misses now that she doesn't eat gluten: black raspberry crumb pie. She makes the crust with lard, as her grandma did.

"That's probably the biggest thing I miss," she said. "That and biscuits."


Sun photo by Jed Kirschbaum

Posted by Laura Vozzella at 10:23 AM | | Comments (8)


Kudos to Amy and Spike!
I'm not diagnosed, but i do avoid gluten as much as possible. It makes me feel ill.
I've tried gluten free bread and related products, and frankly.. they leave MUCH to be desired. (Putting it as politely as i can stand)
There are some very well done rice pastas that are much like "the real thing"

It's not a trend if you physically cannot process gluten.

Using words like crowd and trend marginalizes disease.. is there like a breast cancer crowd? That's an extreme example, and yeah there are also the people (I refrained from saying crazies.. oops) on the other side who think gluten and florinated water are allowing communism to inflitrate America. In the middle are people who are genuinely suffering with Celiac disease.

Other than that it's interesting to read about having to make such a radical change to one's lifestyle. I would say that vegan food is WAY more difficult for a restaurant to do than gluten-free, but as a consumer, well, unfortunately flour is really delicious, so I definitely am sympathetic to someone who suddenly develops gluten sensitivity.

Before we go down this road again, let me clarify: By "trend," I certainly don't mean that people are coming down with Celiac because it's fashionable. I refer to the restaurant industry trend toward offering gluten-free menu items. LV

I do have to jump in here and defend LV, turkeybone. My youngest brother has Celiac's, coupled with Type I diabetes and I can tell you we struggle to select places to eat when he's in town- so I'm excited to hear about this at Woodberry- BUT there have been a number of people that I've talked to (probably more than 5 at this point) that have told me that they too have a "gluten allergy" after I've disclosed my brother's Celiacs. Major pet peeve of mine- If they truly do have an allergy, fine, except at least 4 of them are women that I know that I would venture to say may have eating "issues" and are trying to just stay thin and eat less food/carbs without being bothered by friends at dinner. Again, totally okay if thats your M O but I would agree that going gluten free has become almost a weight loss trend for some...sad, but true.

A great point, Kristen.

Part of the trickiness of communicating science to the public is that the rigorous definitions of what we know and the gradations of what we're less certain about don't translate well.

Celiac has definitive clinical indicators. The various states of gluten sensitivity that we think lead to celiac are simply less well-defined for the important reason that patients seem to exhibit a great deal of variability.

Celiac, and the community that's built itself around the spectrum of gluten sensitivities is easily not the most egregious offender in this regard. But in other highly politicized conditions like autism, Lyme, and chronic fatigue, you see similar patterns emerge.

When science has to admit that there are certain things it doesn't know -- worried patients and parents become more amenable to championing poor science or pseudoscience.

As medicine and science become increasingly politicized, it becomes that much more important to pay attention to the source of "information", as much as the message itself.

The "trend" would not be Celiac's, but restaurants understanding the need.

As for faux Celiacs and other allergies that aren't:
America remains a "Feeder" culture.. It's left over from our immigrant origins, thereby it's more acceptable to say "can't" instead of "don't". Saying that one has a sensitivity is less understood/accepted then allergy. Saying one has a preference or belief meets with resistance.
I've watched lifelong ( raised) vegetarians being meat badgered, but have only met one person that is actually allergic to animal protein and becomes physically ill after ingestion.

that fits in well with America's continuing trend toward being a victim culture

Meekrat, what you said is insightful and helps me to understand why I always used to say I was "allergic" to cigarette smoke rather than appear intolerant of someone else's behavior or habit. After all, no one would question one's medical condition. Well, they didn't used to anyway.

Yes, badger meat, we are all victims of courtesy, hypocrisy, and the social compact.

As a fellow Celiac Disease sufferer it makes me so happy to know someone's out there accommodating those who can't tolerate gluten products but want to feel they're a part of society in eating out/socializing. I actually love the Tenzo breads. I shop a lot at the organic markets. It was hard at first but after you get yourself accustomed to the new lifestyle, you adjust. Thank you Amy and Spike!

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About this blog
Richard Gorelick was appointed The Baltimore Sun's restaurant critic in September 2010. Before joining the paper staff fulltime, he contributed freelance criticism and features articles about food to area and regional publications. Along the way, he dispatched for short-distance trucking companies, shilled for cultural non-profits, and assisted in cognitive neurology research – never the subject, always the control.

He takes restaurants seriously but not himself, and his favorite restaurant is the one you love, too.

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